Imagine the happy day. The bride is half way down the aisle when she stops to remonstrate with a guest who is not wearing a face mask, before checking that the hand sanitiser is prominently displayed. Only then does she continue her journey to matrimonial bliss.
New guidance issued by the Government for weddings of more than 30 people puts the onus on the hosts, who “may be the couple”, to ensure they are Covid-compliant.
The new rules require organisers to complete a risk assessment form before a marriage takes place, with the threat of £10,000 fines if guests break social distancing rules.
According to a sample risk assessment form, published on the Government’s website, wedding organisers are told: “You should not allow dancing. Everyone should be seated whilst eating and drinking.”
The Government says that the risk assessment should be completed by the organiser, “who should be someone who will be able to implement the practical steps required under the risk assessment and can attend the event itself”.
But if the designated organiser is “not able to attend”, then “a suitable person should be identified who can ensure that the event runs in compliance with the risk assessment and regulations”.
The guidance adds: “This may be the couple if the event is being organised in a garden of a private home, but could be another person involved in organising or managing the event, such as a wedding planner.”
Risk assessments to be done ‘in good time’
The risk assessment template, published by the Government, is designed to help individuals hosting an event for 30 or more people in venues that include gardens in private homes and marquees in fields. The form needs to be filled out “in good time” before the marriage and retained for 28 days after it.
“By the day of your event, you should ensure that you put in place all the controls you have identified in your risk assessment,” states the guidance for the couple-to-be.
Hazards identified on the template form include “poor hygiene (hands)”, “crowded areas or ‘pinch points’”, “poor hygiene (surfaces)”, “social distancing being difficult to maintain” and “poorly ventilated space”.
It suggests that both “attendees” and “workers” are at risk and then lists actions that should be taken to mitigate the threat being posed.
Organisers could, for example, “encourage people to wear face coverings inside, particularly around people they don’t usually meet”, raising the prospect of the bride and groom trying to police the guests and ensure those who are not familiar only introduce themselves while wearing masks.
Weddings should only go ahead with one-way queuing systems and “staggering timings” for groups as they move about the venue. Organisers are advised to “identify surfaces likely to be frequently touched”, such as hand rails or door handles and keep those cleaned throughout the event.
The Government suggests keeping all non-fire doors open at venues.
Learn the rules now, couples advised
The requirement came into force on Monday on what was supposed to be Freedom Day and will remain in place until at least July 19 when Boris Johnson has said he believes restrictions will finally be lifted.
Weddings with more than 30 guests were due to have been allowed to go ahead on Monday, but couples must now wait another month.
The wedding industry, which estimates it has lost £16.5 billion worth of business to the impact of the pandemic, reckons about 50,000 weddings are due to take place between now and July 19.
Sarah Haywood, spokeswoman for the UK Weddings Taskforce, the industry body, said: “My own advice to couples is to make sure you know who is in charge and to know what is in the guidelines.
“It is very difficult for us in the industry to stomach it when we see a huge disparity with what weddings are allowed and what goes on at the G7 parties, at Ascot or at football matches.
“Given the huge discrepancies we are seeing in the wider world, it makes it very difficult to accept that wedding guests can only eat and drink sitting down and when it is served to them.
“It is going to be very tricky to say to a father of the bride you need to leave your mask on to walk your daughter down the aisle.”